Thursday, May 30, 2024

RTÉ discussion on gambling advert ban during Leopardstown Racing Festival coverage not a ‘balanced conversation’, minister says

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Junior justice minister James Browne, who is pushing ahead with controversial plans for a daytime gambling advertising ban on television in Ireland, said it is “essential” the national broadcaster be more balanced.

“If they’re going to have that debate, it’s not something to have off the cuff,” he said. “It certainly wasn’t a balanced conversation.”

Mr Browne was referring to a discussion involving RTÉ Sport broadcaster Hugh Cahill, former jockey Ruby Walsh, racing broadcaster Jane Mangan and trainer Andrew McNamara during the station’s racing coverage from Leopardstown on December 27 last – a clip of which has been viewed more than 220,000 times on X.

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​The discussion was prompted by comments Tánaiste Micheál Martin made before Christmas downplaying racing industry fears that the advertising ban will harm the sector.

While Mr Walsh, an ambassador for Paddy Power who also works for Racing TV, acknowledged the need for reforms, he said racing is heavily funded from its value as a “gambling product” and called for greater monitoring of people placing bets. Ms Mangan said the reforms could not treat Racing TV the same as other channels as it is subscription-only and subscribers have to be over 18.

The industry has argued that Racing TV would not be able to be broadcast in Ireland if the ban was introduced and have sought special exemption for it.

But Mr Browne said this would give one station a monopoly and have “an awful lot of unintended consequences”. He also dismissed Racing TV’s over-18s requirement as effectively a box-ticking exercise. “You don’t have to prove you’re over 18,” he said.

During the panel discussion, Mr McNamara agreed with Mr Cahill’s suggestion that there should be a differentiation between Racing TV and free-to-air racing coverage on the likes of RTÉ.

“There aren’t 10-year-old kids subscribing to Racing TV,” he said, before describing the Tánaiste as “slightly naive” for claiming the ban would not affect the industry.

Mr Browne acknowledged the “real concern” of some within the industry but dismissed some claims as exaggerated. “They are allowed to express themselves but they need to have someone who’s an expert in the area coming on and discussing the consequences.”

He suggested RTÉ’s horse racing coverage should hold a proper debate on the gambling regulations and bring in experts in addiction or those affected by gambling addiction to discuss the impact of gambling advertising.

A spokesperson for RTÉ said: “RTÉ is required to be fair, objective and impartial under the broadcasting legislation and to be compliant with the regulatory Codes of Coimisiún na Meán (CnaM).

“RTÉ Sport stands over its recent racing coverage and discussion on gambling advertising which featured the acknowledgement of the need for reform.

“A statutory complaints process is available for any person who believes that any broadcast breached any of the statutory or regulatory provisions. RTÉ has not received any formal complaint regarding this broadcast to date.”

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